No time frame for parliamentary disclosure of gas-to-energy documents

Last Updated on Thursday, 2 February 2023, 21:30 by Denis Chabrol

Prime Minister Mark Phillips

Despite repeated efforts by the opposition coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) for a specific date by which government would release the final investment plan and other documents about the gas-to-energy project to parliamentarians, Prime Minister Mark Phillips on Thursday would only say “in due course”.

APNU+AFC parliamentarian Ganesh Mahipaul asked whether Mr Phillips would be circulating that plan to all parliamentarians, but Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh interjected, saying that if there was a previous commitment then government would do so. Mr Mahipaul said if he was provided the documents he would better understand the project in light of concerns about whether there should be a pipeline or the gas should be shipped by barges.

“I think this project is bigger than politics and I know that there are many opinions being expressed,” Mr Mahipaul said.

Making another pitch for the plan to be provided, he recalled government petroleum sector consultant Winston Brassington saying in February 2022 that the investment plan was ready. The opposition lawmaker later widened his  request to the Prime Minister by asking for all related documents to be circulated to the opposition. “In the interest of transparency and accountability, I am asking, Sir, if, perhaps, all documents that are related to this big project that is going to utilise a substantial amount of money from the Guyanese people; if all the documents related to this project can be made available to the opposition side of this House,” he said.

If that is done, Mr Mahipaul believes that the opposition would have a clearer understanding of the project and be a part of the process to scrutinise the project.

But the Prime Minister sought to again assure the opposition that the People’s Progressive Party Civic-led administration was committed to transparency and accountability, and so “all documents will be provided for Honourable Members to be clearly informed as to this project in due course,” Mr Phillips said. Though Mr Mahipaul welcomed the commitment, he asked the Prime Minister if he was “prepared to give us a timeline when he will provide the opposition side of this House with the documents relating to this big project.”

The Prime Minister again restated that that would be done in “due course” in addition to the publicly done signing of the US$759 million contract between the Guyana government and the United States-based CH/LINDSAYCA.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Phillips also dodged another question, this time from APNU+AFC’s Shurwayne Holder about the actual projected reduced electricity rates in dollars and cents from the 300 megawatt natural gas-fired power plant that would be built at Wales, West Bank Demerara. “In all fairness to the opposition, I don’t want to communicate too many figures to confuse them so let us live with the fact that at the end of this project, you would be paying far less than you are paying now for electricity,” he said. Mr Phillips added that  when the electricity plant is completed and electricity distribution commences, the rates would be published.

Mr Holder also asked what would be the unit cost of the gas that would be supplied to the electricity plant but the precise answer was not provided by the Prime Minister. Several other questions related to project were also not answered, with the Prime Minister instead asking opposition lawmakers to await a report he said would contain all the answers. “Everything will be in the report so why are we belabouring the point. This is turning into a circus, a circus led by senior people in the opposition,” he said.

In 2022, GY$24.3 billion or 15 percent of the project cost was paid last year to the contractor and GY$400 million or more than double the fair market value for compulsory acquisition of land  on the pipeline route.